2018, Life, Rambles

GOLDEN HOUR

Written while sitting outside Starbucks in the sun, surrounded by wealthy mothers with Goyard totes, sipping on a tall cold brew (in a grande cup, for maximum product!) and streaming Kacey Musgraves’ “Golden Hour” off the titular album.

I just got back from a weekend trip to Boston (Chic! Tea!), and it’s the first time that, despite having gone back for weekend trips before) that I stepped actual feet back on my college campus since I graduated almost exactly eleven months ago.

When I went back up in October, I was fresh and wounded from the school year having started (the first one that I was not there for) and so I avoided it on purpose. I was starting a new job, but I was definitely far from settled, and didn’t know what I was going to do with the rest of my year, let alone my whole life. I still don’t, but things are slightly more settled.

This year has been an unintended sabbatical and break for me. After graduating, I had these unformed plans of “Graduate. Move home. Find job. Rinse. Repeat.” I graduated; I moved home; I started applying for jobs. I rinsed, I repeated.

I emailed a local magazine on a whim to do an informational, and ended up with some freelance writing. I got a job doing freelance copy-editing and dipped my toe into a full-adult-human workday. To make up the in-between, I applied for a job at a local Trader Joe’s. I started studying for the GRE and began researching graduate programs. Slowly slowly, I began to fill up my days and the months began to pass. The panicked, failure feeling began to dissipate (not completely, but in small bits).

With the extra time, I dove (well, tepidly stuck my toe in and then dove) back into therapy. There were serious things that I wanted to tackle, things that I had not had the time, mental capacity or vocabulary to tackle before. Before, addressing certain topics would make them real, which would make them impossible to ignore, and would therefore open me up to vulnerabilities. This year was an entire twelve months of vulnerabilities, so I figured there was no time like the present. Why not knock out all of my anxieties and issues in one fell swoop? (It’s not that simple or that clean, but honey let me have this!)

I have not successfully come out on top of any of the issues that I wanted to tackle (if anything, they’ve proved to be more complex and multifaceted than I originally believed) but they no longer feel insurmountable. They no longer feel like cracks in my pavement or deal-breakers. In short, I no longer feel unfixable.

I’ve also incorporated more color into my wardrobe. If you’re thinking, “Whoa! This is a shift from talking about psychiatry!” then you’d be right but you’d also be not in my brain. A lot of how I dressed, dark colors and baggy cuts, was to detract attention away from my body. I wanted to have attention, but I didn’t want my body – or what I considered to be a coterie of problems – to be at the nexus. But over the last few months, as I’ve been opening up about the sources of those issues, I’ve felt myself craving color on a level that I never have before.

I wore a glorious gold hoodie over the weekend, and endured some teasing from my friends about its vivacity. But I didn’t care because it was so sunny and beautiful and eye-catching. I picked up two t-shirts – one pale pink and one pale yellow – from a local thrift store, colors I would never usually gravitate towards. But I’ve felt more confident, and with wearing color, I feel like I’m saying, “You can see me. I’m okay with it.”

I’m hitting a golden hour of sorts. I’ve endured gray moments over the past year, some downright turbulent and stormy, but I can feel myself hitting my stride. Large parts of that are due to being more settled – in life, grad school, and myself. But I think it’s also that I’m, for the first time, allowing myself to be seen – to be opened up in different ways.

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Rambles, Thinkpiece

WHAT IS MY VOICE?

In a lot of ways, I’m so similar to Ariel in The Little Mermaid. Like her, I have red hair, blue eyes and a tail. My first crush was Prince Eric (hasn’t changed), and I love lounging on rocks. And like Ariel, sis, I don’t really have a voice right now!

Not literally: I’ve got a voice that has been described as “melodious” and/or “gay,” and it’s served me well. I’m talking about my writing voice. It’s a large part of why I’ve been so lax about posting. Ever since graduating, I’ve feel well and truly lost as to what my post-grad voice sounds like.

In college, I operated under a near-blind and almost entirely undue amount of confidence. Really, looking back, it’s astounding that I didn’t get hit by a car or fall into a river. I was so cocky, you guys. So cocky.

I wrote with the vigor of someone who had not yet felt the sting of a thousand-thousand job rejections and who has not had to answer the question, “So…what are you doing?” with pained laughter until eyes are averted and the question is glossed over.

In college, I assumed – without any proof – that my voice was winsome and inviting, a tone that would remain immortal. And while I will remain immortal – I’ve been pretty much guaranteed that – I don’t think I took into account that people, and their ensuing tones and beliefs, change and adapt.

And even nearly a year later – gulp – I’m realizing that I didn’t allow myself the space to grow, or the gentleness that growing and changing, and being lost, is okay.

There are a lot of reasons why my tone has changed. First, it would be naïve and impossible to ignore the fact that I advertise this blog on my resume, and potential employers would stumble upon it regardless if they Google my name. Well, they’ll have to go through a few search pages (there’s other Danny McCarthy’s but none are as hot as me, thank god) but eventually they’ll get there. So with that is the pressure of Am I writing in the right way and Is this the right thing to say and What will people think. That didn’t factor into my writing in college because, you know, delusion.

Second, is that I’ve been living my life and that’s changed how I think about things. It’s impossible not to evolve (ask any Pokémon, sis!), and it’s been a challenge to channel everything that’s happening into a cohesive, passionate tone. Ambivalence doesn’t sell, and I’ve felt dangerously close to ambivalent about a lot of things lately.

And third, my tone has changed because I’ve been kinda going through it. Graduating and job-searching and graduate school applications have shaken my confidence in a major way. Before I graduated, I was a Boston 8 with the confidence of a telemarketer, and now I’m a New York 6 with the confidence of the first baker eliminated on Great British Bake Off.

In a lot of ways, I’m navigating the unknown, and the unknown makes it difficult to suss out what to share and what to keep private. Things have bigger stakes now; it’s just not wondering if I’ve pissed off someone by blowing up their spot or weirding someone out by waxing poetic about the way their voice leans. I’m selling the brand of me, and honey people are not buying it – not even the free trial!

But I’d like to get back to that place. Not the cosseted, unaware spot, but the place where I am so brimming with a desire to write that other people’s perceptions of it are a distinct second thought. I’d like to feel more steady in my writing, if just for the fact that writing is how I process everything that happens in my life. It’s quite literally my lifeline and my method for understanding everything.

And I lied – I’m a New York 7.

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Body Health, Essay, Mental Health

HANG LIKE CHICKEN

In my first-ever gym class of high school, we underwent a fitness diagnostic. Our gym teacher required the students to perform as many chin-ups as they could. If they were not able to do a chin-up, he offered, they could simply hang from the bars.

The oddness of those two choices – to either perform an act or engage in something that arguably proves nothing except the presence of fingers – was further underscored by the vast breadth of physical prowess. If you had hit puberty by then, you could do chin-ups. If you hadn’t, you hung like a limp flag or, more realistically, the trussed and plucked chicken hanging in a meat shop. Since I’m barely hitting puberty at 22, it’s an easy guess to figure out which camp I fell into.

That did not stop me from pathetically attempting a chin-up. I didn’t realize that it’s nearly impossible to do a chin-up from fully-extended arms, so I tucked my knees underneath me and tried to pull myself up from ramrod-straight arms. After several tense, physically agonizing moments, I let myself hang quietly before dropping back down to the floor.

And I remember, in the seconds that I hung from the bar, thinking how completely pointless this exercise was. Gym class proceeded much in the same way; after freshman year, I just opted to do homework with a clutter of the other unathletic boys while the fitter ones fucked around with dodgeball, or whatever. By senior year, I was skipping out of gym entirely – using my senior privilege and status a runner to avoid it. But, to be honest, having a gym class once every six days wasn’t doing me, or anyone, any favors.

So for most of my life, the chin-up, and any desire to do it, eluded me. When I started working out in college, I hopped in and out of the chin-up phase. Once I realized that clinging to the bars and literally leaping up into a chin-up position didn’t technically count, I swapped to the assisted pull-up machine and avoided it whenever I could.

The assisted pull-up machine requires you to put your knees on a pad and subtract weight from your total mass. So if you’re 160 pounds, and you subtracted fifty pounds, you were doing the chin-ups with a body weight of 110 pounds. I was subtracting so much weight that I was actually flinging myself upwards with every pull and reaching an exosphere orbit.

I would eye the people who could do a pull-up or chin-up unassisted with hot glowering envy. It seemed literally impossible, and then I saw people actually adding weights to their own self and doing repetitions with that. That was as unbelievable to me as those stories of mothers lifting up cars to save their loved ones – actually more unbelievable. I began to measure my prowess in terms of how many unassisted repetitions I could do – one was bad, two was better, three was ideal.

But as I worked out more, I began to reacquaint myself with the pull-up machine. As I lost weight and gained muscle, the notches of the weight began to shift lighter and lighter. Eventually, I was doing ten to twenty pounds of assistance, for a weight of roughly 185.

And then, a few weeks ago, I decided to leave the pad entirely. Straining, I pulled myself up – my elbows narrowing into neat acute angles – and down. When I completed sixteen chin-ups, four repetitions in four sets, I fell into a crouch and felt my heart pump blood headily into the aching muscles. But I kept doing it. every day, at the beginning of my workout, I did sixteen chin-ups – always in four sets of four – before moving onto the rest of my workout. I found that the less I focused on what I was about to do, the better I performed. If I hesitated, arms extended upward but feet still on the ground, I could barely get myself into the air.

I began to change it up – I added another set of pull-ups to the routine. Eventually, I switched to sixteen pull-ups (working the back muscles, shoulder muscles and the latissimus dorsi muscles). I tacked on a set of chin-ups, and on arms days, I would do sixteen of each.

I’ve noticed more muscle changes in the few weeks that I’ve started doing unassisted pull-ups. My shoulders are squarer, my collarbones swoop with the graceful lean of ship’s bows, and my biceps are bigger. In the shower, I catch glimpses of back muscles rippling in ways that they didn’t before. I’m obsessed with my shoulder blades, their hookedness like two eagle beaks.

Unfortunately, like a lot of people, I have a complex relationship with my body. And I’ve often leaned on the gym in unhealthy ways, eviscerating myself on days when I had to skip, or punishing myself for days that I didn’t push myself as far as I could’ve. In my most depressed, the gym becomes more of an outlet and a crutch. Before, when I looked my best, it’s often because I was feeling my worst. At a particular low point in college, mental health-wise, I would escape to the gym for hours every day, later pinching the fat on my hips as it melted away. I obsess over my body’s aesthetic, how this looks and how this lays.

I’ve always carried that anxiety when going to the gym; that I could backslide and become obsessive again. I still have lingering habits, a twinge of despair when I weigh myself, or a slight internal battle about how much cardio to do. I take my backslides softly, and slowly, and I’m trying to treat myself gently. It doesn’t always work, maybe not even half of the time, but I try.

Doing these pull-ups aren’t about how they will make my body look. It is a physical challenge, a test of my own strength – something that doesn’t come from aesthetics alone.

But this feels different for me.

When I’m doing pull-ups, I revel in the strength as I lift upwards. I imagine all of the scenarios where I can pull myself up. Action movie scenes, where the ground falls away beneath me and I have to swing myself up from the lip of a cliff. Deep dark holes that I’m trapped in. American Ninja Warrior monkey bars. I revel in getting stronger, and it feels wholly unconnected to aesthetics or attractiveness. In every muscle micro-tear, I steel myself with strength. I feel myself getting stronger, and I nourish it like a seedling. I picture myself as a warrior, each line of muscle meaning that I am more capable, more sturdy, more indomitable.

It isn’t about how I look – it’s about how I feel.

And damn, sis, I feel good.

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college, Essay, Halloween

NO PICTURES

As I was on a (what would turn out to be over four hours in the rain and two iterations of Taylor Swift’s 1989) drive back from my Boston Halloweekend, I realized – mid-eating a Chicken McNugget – that I hadn’t gotten a picture for Instagram the entire weekend. “Fuck!” I said, mouth muffled by “meat.”

And over the next few hours, as I caught up on all the social media I had missed – all the Halloween Instagrams of people in their various costumes, all the posed Snap stories and (let’s be realistic) Instagram stories – I felt more and more annoyed. I had let a prime social media weekend slip through my fingers like sand, or silk, or (most realistically) me dribbling a basketball.

It was the second time I was in Boston in October, and I had – on both occasions – made a plan to take a cute Instagram with my friends and completely forgotten. It’s a sober truth, I’ve realized, that when you’re a freelance writer-journalist (slash full-time inspiration and model), your chances for taking cutely candid Instagrams are severely limited. Either I’m working, writing, sleeping, eating, watching Netflix or doing some combination of the aforementioned. And unless my followers want endless versions of my dog with the exact same photo filtering (I do an opaque shadow, get used to it), there’s a limit to the content I’m naturally coming into contact with.

Getting an Instagram is more than an exercise in vanity. This might be dumb – do you know me? – but social media is as much a cultivation of personal branding as it is to remember moments. I want to work in media, and understanding various social media platforms, and being active on those platforms, is important to me. And in a post-grad world where I’m a very small fish in…the ocean? A galaxy? It helps me feel connected to the larger world. And yes, I use those photos for Tinder. Sue me.

Before I came up to Boston in the beginning of October, I texted my best friend. “We have to take a photo together.” She agreed (she loves photos of me). But with the time constraints of balancing family and friends, we forgot. I spent my hours with her, and my other friends, drinking at our favorite bar, hanging out at home, getting brunch. I drank up their presence like a sunflower; it had been so long since I had seen them in person. And I just missed them. And I didn’t want to miss any of them by separating myself through a screen.

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Essay, Life

“ONE—TWO—THREE!”

Neon-green teeth against deep, dark violet skin. A ceiling fan broken from too many hands flinging into the air. Too many bodies crammed into too little square footage, forcing the heat to climb upwards until your white shirt has turned filmy as it clings wetly to your skin.

We see the host, and I grab the drink out of his hand to take a sip of artificial margarita. We set up residence against one wall, some girl’s long strands of hair whipping against the small of my back as she dances with someone else.

Talking becomes a post-lingual experiment. The mouth forms words that will never reach someone else’s ears, instead swirling out and upward into the collective cacophony. You communicate by mouthing simple words, by pointing, by the arching of eyebrows.

That’s a college party. Sound so big it forces you into the corner, heat so high everyone loses water weight against their will, and a Babel tower of red Solo cups.

It’s the kind of thing that could only occur in college. Only occur when there’s an uneven distribution of wealth. Top-shelf liquors mixed with liters of lukewarm Sprite, the kind that our teachers brought in for class parties. J.Crew button-downs with beaten-down Converse splashed with various liquids. You bypass the club with their $10-covers and instead cram in with sixty of your Facebook friends-of-friends and sweat it out to Childish Gambino.

It’s the kind of thing that could only occur when you’re on the razor’s edge between childhood and adulthood.

Before, we stood in her bathroom, me balancing a water bottle of Patron and two shot glasses on the ceramic lid of the toilet tank. I poured the Patron into the glasses, alternately labeled in ridged letters “Don’t Mess with Texas” and “Malibu”. I took care to make sure they were level with each other before handing one off. In between her putting black eyeliner on, we licked the bony tops of our thumbs and dumped salt on the damp.

“One—two—three,” I said as we clicked the shots together.

Lick the salt. Suck down the Patron. Hold the two in your mouth for a second before gulping. We didn’t have limes so I grabbed a bottle of lemonade. The sickly-sweet-sour taste of the lemonade, from concentrate, cuts through the tequila as I made a hasty gulp before passing it on to her. We stagger the second round of shots so that we can have equal access to the chaser.

Lick. Suck. Gulp.

I perch behind her as she tries to balance out her eyeliner. I pull thick swathes of auburn hair into place. We preen, and something warms in the outline of my ribs.

Later it was a bottle of red wine that we passed back and forth. We had to clench our teeth to avoid consuming the coils of foil from the twist-top that had fallen to the bottom of the deep dark red. Afterward, we would have to comb our tongues free of the aluminum scraps.

We went to a birthday pre-game first, one we drastically overestimated the punctuality of its occupants. By the time we strolled in at 9:45, they were already platonically grinding to Top 40, and That One Girl was yelling at people to start requesting their Ubers.

“FIVE MINUTES PEOPLE, CALL YOUR UBERS,” she waded through the clusters of drunk people. “FIVE MINUTES.” This was not a Lyft crowd.

We had enough time to say hi to Birthday Girl & Co and mooch some Smirnoff Raspberry into thrown-together cocktails. But they were annoyingly punctual, and by 10 p.m. we were the last ones to swirl out of the apartment, shoving potato chips into our pockets for snacking on the sidewalk.

At the second party, the purple light burned through the window even as we were approaching from outside. Inside, sweat mixed with liquor mixed with burnt weed. Hawaiian shirts glowed hotly against dark violet skin. Synthetic leis lit up the undersides of chins and matched eerily with the neon whites of people’s eyes.

Inside, everyone is a stranger, even the people I know. The darkness coats everything, so that familiarity becomes a moot point until they’re in your face. I run into people from class, old half-forgotten acquaintances, and former besties. In a party, old frictions are limned over in the alcohol haze.

She and I stand by the bar counter, a square hole in the wall between the living room and the kitchen. Separated by a narrow line of strangers are friends from my collegiate nascence. Friends whom I knew when I hardly knew myself. That clogging nostalgia rises from my chest and coils behind my tongue. The sense is that identity is a series of rolling hills.

You climb one with some cluster of people, crest over the top and skid to the bottom. Then you begin again. And suddenly people begin to drop off. After one hill without them, they become a little blurred. After two and three, you have lost sight of them entirely. But they’re on their own hills, cresting and skidding endlessly over and over. Run up, hover, run down.

And eventually you realize that if you keep looking back, as the hummocks replicate, you’ll trip. So you force yourself to look forward, cresting with new people, ending at the bottom of the hill with new people.

Sucking the foil from my tongue, I lean down to say something to her and come face-to-face with a yelling landlord. Party’s over, he says. The purple light weakens as yellow-bulbed rooms are opened up, the crowd thins, but the music thumps on, as loud as before. It blankets over the scurrying people, grabbing coats, appearing from cracks in the walls and hidden spots like cockroaches.

As I wrestle our coats from the pile, she spills a cup of something over me, her and the floor. Margarita, probably, or Sprite. Something sticky and sweet that dots my jeans like rain.

As we leave the purple light party, our laughter trailing behind us at this long-ago failure of a night, we cut through back alleys to our familiar place. Two identical beers and nearly identical burgers—fries to split between two people.

Our hills have neatly aligned, I realize as we tuck into burgers, the kick of spicy secret sauce hitting the ridged roof of my mouth. Bite of burger, snap of fry, sip of beer. Sloppily sopping up that secret sauce, too drunk to care about appearing proper.

Balancing between childhood and adulthood is like that. It’s the razor’s edge, the series of hills. The ravenous eating of two dollar burgers after wine and tequila and beer. Patron in plastic and curls of foil on tongues. Too many metaphors because I haven’t learned yet that one will do. It’s the here now and the not there yet.

We stand at the bottom of the hill and I reach my hand out towards hers. She clasps it, sweat against sweat. Chipped baby-blue nail polish.

“One—two—three.”

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college, Essay, Politics

ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM: MY NIGHT WITH REPUBLICANS

Names have been changed, except the name of that nail polish. Originally submitted as a piece for my Columns & Editorials class.

Last night I went to my first College Republicans meeting. I’m working on a story about political engagement among college students post-election, and when researching political party groups on campus, I found out they were having a meeting that very night.

I don’t know what I thought I would be walking into, but it wasn’t what I assumed. Okay, I knew what I thought it would be—a Nazi circle-jerk, or an anti-Obama pile-on. I expected Make America Great Again hats and enough Vineyard Vines to clothe an entire village.

There was only one MAGA hat but, I assumed, they all had some in their closets. There were a lot more women than I expected, at least half but maybe more. Traitors to their gender, I thought. How can they side with someone who is so anti-women? And there were people of color. Stockholm Syndrome, I reasoned, or internalized xenophobia. The white, presumably straight, guy in a quarter-zip and Patriot’s baseball cap was soaked in so much privilege that anything he would say was bound to be offensive. But in what’s usually the case, per the principle of Occam’s Razor, the simplest answer is usually the truest. They weren’t brainwashed or spies or masochists. They were just Republicans.

The meeting began with typical housekeeping. In light of the new presidency, they hoped to up their meetings from once every three weeks to something more frequent, and then they bandied around ideas for speakers they could get for their semesterly big function. Bill O’Reilly, I learned, is a BU alum, and one girl thought he was worth reaching out to.

After, the conversation turned to discussion. The latest news: The inauguration, and who among the group had attended. The nomination for Supreme Court of Neil Gorsuch. They said it was a “Merrick Garland type of decision,” meaning a more centrist pick that both sides could agree on. The immigration ban, which a College Republicans executive board member, Rocky, said (a common response) was “executed very, very poorly.”

Marianne talked about the immigration ban, sharing that her boyfriend (a green card holder from a “non-white, non-Christian” country) was afraid that if he left America, he wouldn’t be let back in.

Getting visibly upset, she said, “No one should be afraid of that; that if he left for Engineering Without Borders to do work in Africa and came back on a connecting flight through Dubai…” She trailed off.

A lot of the conversation, the feelings of dealing with rabid liberals who operated purely on emotion and attacked without information, was uncomfortably familiar to me. The sense of defeat when having a conversation with someone on the far other side. Frustration with how polarized everything seems to be. Swap any of the names, and I could’ve easily been sitting in on a group of liberals talking about zealous Republicans.

“It’s hard being the elephant in the room, literally and figuratively,” said Robert, one of the club’s executive board members. That earned major laughs from the members, and even a surprised one from me. Who knew Republicans could have jokes? He was answering in response to Lydia, a Chicago native who was relieved to find a group of like-minded people in such a liberal city.

“So it’s nice to have, well I don’t wanna say the word “safe space” but…” said Robert, laughing again.

They were tired of being demonized, of being labeled as Nazis or homophobes or xenophobes or racists or misogynists, and the list goes on and on. To be fair, it’s a pretty long list. Tired of everything being labeled “the end of the world,” a sentiment, they pointed out, is always expressed by the opposing political side to the president. But the sense that I got from most of them was that their primary motivation for voting Trump was either loyalty to the Republican party or fiscal.

Robert told a story about his Republican parents and his upbringing in Michigan. His mother grew up in Detroit in the sixties and seventies, and was witness to the decline of the industrial community.

“When we heard “Make America Great Again,” that’s what we associated it with,” he said. Not the takeback of the country from diversity, but the bringing back of industrial jobs into areas that are starving without them.

When I asked the group if they felt a disconnect or conflict between being a millennial and being a Republican, their hands were raising before I even finished the question.

“I’m socially more liberal, but fiscally more conservative, so I identify myself as more of a moderate,” said Stacey. That sense, that as Republicans they were most caught up in fiscal matters, seemed to resonate amongst everybody. And when Stacey said the (I assumed) most-hated statement, “I voted for Hillary Clinton,” no one recoiled. No one threw anything at her. Her conflict, between Republican and millennial, was one with which they could all identify.

When people hear the name Republican, felt most of them, they assume white nationalists and xenophobes. But it’s “a wide tent,” said Max, and Republicans are much more diverse than people are willing to believe.

One of the last questions I posed to the group was “Is there something you wish you could tell the other side?”

“Ask questions,” said Rocky. Be able to have a conversation. Be open to having a conversation.

Stacey offered a story from her time interning for Governor Charlie Baker. “Many liberals are turning more moderate, to be able to work with a conservative government,” she said, “And that’s really good to see.”

“Thanks for being willing to listen,” said Louis, the communications chair, when I thanked them for their time.

At the end of the meeting, two girls gingerly approached me. “Um, can I ask you something?” one asked, a woman of color.

“Yeah!” I answered, trying to be friendly but predicting (even after all this) that it might be something rude or blunt or homophobic.

“I was staring at it all meeting; where is your nail polish from?”

I looked down at the minty blue color. “Isn’t it great? It’s called ‘Babe Blue.’ But I don’t know the brand. Sorry!”

She looked genuinely anguished, because it is such a cute color. “Oh, okay. Thanks!”

And when I got home and logged on to Twitter, I saw my liberal newsfeed through different eyes. How would the College Republicans see this? They would say probably that it’s catastrophizing everything. And they might be right.

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